A huge picture of Malcolm X covers the background of the MySpace Music page belonging to Kil Ripken, an up and coming rapper based in Coney Island, New York; his Facebook profile shows him standing next to a sign that reads “Jena High School.” But Kil’s political activism is only part of his varied, diverse identity—he’s at once a rapper, producer, activist, and a thinker. It’s this split essence, something that he says shares with everyone, that he is exploring on his soon-to-be-released CD, entitled “The Balancing Act.” He was happy to explain his life, philosophy, activism, and his awesome nicknames to the Argus.
Argus: Tell me about your past, where you grew up, and how this effects your sound.
Kil Ripken: No doubt. Well, I grew up in Coney Island, part of Brooklyn, and pretty much you had either sports or music, and I did both. And I grew up with a lot of cats out there who were, you know, boot camp affiliates, and so that whole Brooklyn music hip-hop vibe was always a part of me. You know, I worked for a lot of underground cats in Brooklyn also, so that kick-rooted Brooklyn sound was always a part of me growing up.
A: So I noticed you like to talk about “soul music.” How would you define it? And would you define your music as “soul music?”
KR: Absolutely, man. I think any music that comes from the soul that you can relate to or that I can relate to, or anyone can relate to, is soul. Just like this, you know we’re vibing on the same frequency in terms of the same music we like, that’s our souls communicating, so I try to do music that always touches people right there so they can relate. You can’t be fake—the soul is real, and that’s the type of music I love to listen to, I like to hear that little soulful sound, even if it’s pop music there’s still gonna be some soul to it, if it’s reggae it’s gonna have some soul to it—and that’s what I love, man.
A: You’ve done a lot of producing throughout your career—has your experience producing affected your sound, your rapping?
KR: Absolutely, because as a producer I learned to appreciate the artist I was working with. And what I mean by that is that every artist is different, so I had to change my music according to that artist, and it just made me appreciate writing in a whole different manner. Like, one of the reasons that I love Biggie—he’s probably one of the only artists I still get inspired by and study his work—is that he can rap off of anything, it didn’t matter what it was, he can flow to it. And I learned that, actually, working with a lot of other artists that came through in the studio. I haven’t produced in a minute, but I look forward to it again.
A: Awesome. So, I know you’ve been involved in politics, in activism with the Jena Six for example. How do you think your activism and your politics are expressed in your music?
KR: I mean [my activism] is part of my life. I love freedom. I love my sovereignty, and I love anyone who’s all for that, no matter what color you are. And I stress, when you hear my music, you might hear certain things, but do believe that I love anyone who tries to uphold freedom and sovereignty—it doesn’t matter what color you are, and I try to relate that in my music because we don’t hear too much of that today. Everyone’s on another frequency, I like to call it the lower frequency. I’m trying to raise it up a little bit, we’re in desperate times, times when we really need to spiritually line up, and that’s just who I am, I’m not trying to be preachy. And because that’s who I am I try to relate that through my music—I don’t try to associate myself with any cult or movement. I’m with whoever is begging for freedom, and whoever is trying to uphold sovereignty—let’s ride together, let’s put out some good music, let’s break bread, whatever we gotta do to maintain. That’s basically what I’m trying to put forth in my music.
A: I really liked your new track that leaked recently from your new album, “The Balancing Act,” and I’d love it if you could tell me a little about you’re your thought process—were you trying to don something new, try something out? And tell me about the title, “The Balancing Act.”
KR: I mean, I’m not trying to do anything out of the box, again, I’m just trying to be myself—and that’s what I think people love about my music. It’s called “The Balancing Act” because when I moved recently from Brooklyn to down South, to Charlotte, I’ve gone through a transition in my life—different cultures, different hoods, different people that I’m vibing with. I noticed that life is a balance, you gotta go to work, gotta balance many different things, and that’s pretty much what I waned to put out in my music, to let the people know that I’m human. I got kids, got a studio, gotta maintain other business, and maintain everything. It’s a balancing act, and each song reflects that—I take you on a nice little rollercoaster ride, where all in all each song balances it out. By the end, you’ll really get to know who Kil Ripken is. It’s a dope album, probably my best work to date, and my views on hip-hop and the whole music game is a little different from others: I love to do it, it keeps me going, but I have other motivations and other trials, it’s all timing. To me, everything is timing: I think—I know—I’m gonna do big things with “The Balancing Act,” and it’s time for the world to hear it.
A: I think so too—I’ve really liked what I’ve heard so far!
KR: I appreciate that, man, and when I hear stuff like that, because I’m such an introvert (my crew always tells me I gotta come out more), like I said there’s a time for everything. It’s because of comments like that that I go into the studio and put it down for the people. That’s what inspires me, what keeps me going.
A: Tell me a bit about your religious views—Malcolm X is a prominent figure in many of your songs, for example. Are you religious, and if so, how does it affect your sound?
KR: No, I don’t really subscribe to any religion—I am a Moslem, which means Moorish-America, and that’s my private life. I like to say I’m a scientist—I believe in one love, one God, you’re my brother the same way my brother is my brother. That’s basically what it is—my love for Malcolm X is basically his discipline. I try to take something from everyone, like growing up, I used to love the Justice League, and I would take a little something from each hero. What I love about Malcolm was his discipline, his focus, and that’s why I keep him with me. Also, he begged for freedom and tried to uphold sovereignty, so for everybody that’s doing that I’m with you. I do praise Allah, but that’s not a religion, that’s a science.
A: Cool. Tell me about your nicknames!
KR: Well, one of them is the Ghetto Correspondent, and I get that because I’m always in the hood, telling the story. I love where I come from, even though I’ve had a lot of hard times, I have a lot of beautiful experiences from there. So, I’m the Ghetto Correspondent because I’m always corresponding with what’s going on in the hood. I also go by the Genereal because I’m real with it, and my leadership skills are just phenomenal. I’ve always said that one day I’m gonna lead an army, and I do believe it. I also go by Rip the Guardian, because I love my people and help them—so there’re many aliases, and they’re all me, which is what’s important.
A: Thanks so much for talking to me; I can’t wait for “The Balancing Act.”